So you survived the long Thanksgiving weekend, and now you are feeling bad about your body because you enjoyed that delicious food and drink with your family and friends. You may be considering cutting out sweets between now and Christmas, or beginning some new rigid exercise program. But the key to beating your body image blues may be in practicing self-compassion. Several studies have found that practicing self-compassion reduces body dissatisfaction and body shame, and increases positive body image and body appreciation.
Self-compassion is caring for ourselves the same way we care for someone we truly love who is struggling. According to leading self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, there are three parts to self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness.
How to Practice Self-Compassion
The next time you are feeling negatively about your body, take a few moments to become mindful of the emotions you are experiencing. Notice the physical discomfort in your body, as you bring this difficulty to mind. Maybe thoughts like, “Ouch! This hurts!” or “Oh man, this stinks!” come to mind. This is mindfulness of the suffering you experience when you struggle with your body image.
We all struggle with our body image from time to time. In fact, according to Brené Brown, body image and appearance are the number one shame trigger for women, and body image is also high up there for men too. Remind yourself that you are not alone in how you feel. This is common humanity. This is just how it feels when you don’t like your body.
Self-kindness can be the hardest part. It’s often easier to give loved ones kindness than ourselves. But give it a try. Start by placing your hand over your heart or give yourself a little hug to connect to yourself. Remind yourself that there is a person here that you care about. Begin offering yourself some self-compassion phrases — not to make the discomfort and unpleasant feeling go away, but because they are there. Some phrases might be: “May I care for myself as well as I can.” “May I forgive myself for the hurt I caused myself.” “May I know my own value, which is not based on my body or appearance.” “May I be strong to face this difficulty.” “May I love and accept myself just as I am in this moment.”
If it is hard for you to offer yourself these phrases, try to imagine a dear friend who is struggling in the same way you are with their body. What words of care, understanding and kindness would you offer to your friend? Now offer these words to yourself.
It’s Not Self-Indulgence, It’s Self-Care
Self-compassion can be incorrectly confused with self-indulgence, and some people worry that they may be too easy on themselves. They fear that if they are self-compassionate, they’ll stay up late watching TV, eat whatever they want, or goof off at work. However, research has found the opposite to be true: self-compassionate people are more likely to take personal responsibility, pick themselves up after past mistakes, and remain more motivated to exercise, quit smoking or stick with eating a balanced diet. That’s true self-care, which can enable us to reach our full potential.
Self-compassion is a skill. The more you practice it, the easier it becomes. It’s like strengthening your muscles by lifting weights. Start with smaller moments of self-compassion and build your practice over time.
Give yourself the gift of self-compassion this holiday season. It may help you make peace with and appreciate your body, and it may motivate you to care for yourself during this stressful time of year — and beyond.
Please visit my website and listen to my meditation on working with poor body image. If you are struggling to be more self-compassionate towards yourself, or wish to explore how to become more self-compassionate, contact me.
May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be peaceful. May you live with ease.